Dredged Up | ‘The Crisp at the Crossroads’

Bryan, who contributed this poem from Catullus to the blog a few weeks ago, is also the indirect benefactor of this post, as he gave me the book in which I found this 1970 essay on potato chips by Reyner Banham, an architecture critic. While airy like its subject, Banham’s enthusiastic analysis manages to pack in some more edifying content as well. I dedicate this post to the memory of balsamic vinegar and sea salt Kettle Chips eaten with equal measures of shame and delight during rainy weekend afternoons in the JCR, summer picnics on the quad, and slightly chilly outings on the college punt: 

Chips or crisps, depending on how you slice it

…The potato crisp is at the crossroads, and to judge by the sundry aromas arising from the secret kitchens of R-and-D departments, the industry can’t guess which way it will go. Whoever guesses right could make a real killing. The value of Britain’s annual crop has doubled since 1964 and now stands around 62 million quid–crunch that! Continue reading

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Eat My Words | Candy from a stranger

Post-travel pocket contents on newly-acquired trivet

On my way home from an all-too-short trip to England last week, I was loitering outside the baggage claim at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport, zoning out as the rain began to fall over Michigan and recalling how the notoriously fickle British clime had very kindly offered up a series of beautiful days during my stay and made my visit even more wonderfully unreal, when I suddenly realized that from within the dark recesses of the car parked in front of me, there was a long shadowy finger, beckoning.

This is a scene I’ve been taught since dressed in onesies to read as a prelude to kidnappings and drug deals. However, after (in)expertly canvassing the scene and discovering that the finger belonged to a neatly-dressed old woman, I decided it was safe to make contact. Continue reading

Dredged Up | Sir Steele on the proper imbibing of spirits

Sir Richard Steele (1672-1729)

A man well-rounded both in physical proportions and intellectual interests, Sir Richard Steele  is best remembered today for starting The Spectator with his friend Joseph Addison. One of the first periodicals in England, The Spectator sought ‘to enliven morality with wit, and to temper wit with morality… to bring philosophy out of the closets and libraries, schools and colleges, to dwell in clubs and assemblies, at tea-tables and coffeehouses’. A noble task, and one perhaps easier for him in his day than us in ours by the fact that The Spectator’s circulation of 3,000 reached approximately a tenth of London’s population as each paper was passed from hand to hand–mainly in the rising institution of the coffee house–over the course of the day. 

The excerpt below comes at the end of his essay, ‘On Recollections of Childhood; Death of Parents; First Love’. My favorite part, other than the last bit, is the way he manages to convey sincerity rather than euphemism in his use of ‘commended’ as a alternative verb. 

From Steele’s ‘On Recollections of Childhood’: 

Garraway's Coffee House in Exchange Alley, circa 1800

A large train of disasters were coming on to my memory, when my servant knocked at my closet-door, and interrupted me with a letter, attended with a hamper of wine, of the same sort with that which is to be put to sale on Thursday next, at Garraway’s coffee-house. Upon the receipt of it, I sent for three of my friends. We are so intimate, that we can be company in whatever state of mind we meet, and can entertain each other without expecting always to rejoice. The wine we found to be generous and warming, but with such a heat as moved us rather to be cheerful than frolicksome. It revived the spirits, without firing the blood. We commended it until two of the clock this morning; and having to-day met a little before dinner, we found, that though we drank two bottles a man, we had much more reason to recollect than forget what had passed the night before.

From Sir Richard Steele, ‘On Recollections of Childhood; Death of Parents; First Love’, 1710.

Dredged Up | Roman Stone Soup

To apologize for the long silence is probably only to flatter myself about an eager readership, but at the very least I should apologize for a lack of discipline. The reality is that this summer has been one more of unresolved thinking than writing, more of eating than cooking. And one of transitions: life transitions and time zone transitions and linguistic transitions, in the midst of which other aspects of life lose momentum and then don’t receive enough force to get going again. 

No rolling stone

Continue reading

Dredged Up | The lost future of food computing

A would-be godsend for housewives

This summer, I’ve made a pact with my father. I can read my literary stuff and putter around and do my own thing writing about novels and food while doing my internship as long as I also read a couple of books that he picks for me. To compensate for the overdevelopment of my education in certain directions, and all that. I suspect they’ll mostly be on financial topics since he considers me a monetary dimwit–not in that I spend excessively, but that as a person who generally deals with words rather than numbers, I have a very tenuous and small-picture grasp on how fiscal transactions work on the macroscopic level. Of this, I can only say that I’m guilty as charged.  A few other works detailing global shifts, human psychology, and social patterns will probably serve as the other sheets of sandpaper applied to the rough edges of my knowledge.

Though it’s all been surprisingly enjoyable, the most unexpected moment of amusement I received this week was while reading Chris Anderson’s Free: The Future of a Radical Price. Turning past pages about pricing schemes and twenty-first century conceptions of what ‘free’ means, I came across a description of a bizarre moment in computing history during the 1960s when engineers imagined a mind-bogglingly limited and off-target future for the personal computer–though I suppose one can’t blame them too much for immediately latching on the idea of food: Continue reading

Dredged Up | Eulogy for a fish

Alaskan Halibut

Since my last post two months ago, I’ve gone from having my brain slow-roasted over the open flame of university examinations in England to having my flesh consumed by insatiable Taiwanese mosquitoes. Fortunately the abject suffering has come with some perks, such as post-exam barbecues and summer berries in Oxford and abundant spreads of fresh produce in Taiwan. And, of course, the people who make these indulgences meaningful. Though it has left little time and mental capacity for blogging, life has been good. 

At the moment, I’m working (slowly, I have to admit) on a longer post about some of my last moments and last eats in England. To tide you over until that much-anticipated day, here is a poem by the eighteenth-century poet William Cowper about a subject that bridges the cultures of the two island nations I’ve recently called home: eating fish. I’ve italicized my favorite part, the pseudo-benediction at the end.  Continue reading

Eat my words | Thoughts on eggs

This slightly belated Easter post is modified from a version that first appeared on my old blog in April 2010. 

An egg is dear on Easter day. –Russian proverb

Painted (and carved) Easter eggs for sale in Prague

Last year, my eye was caught by a caption in the New York Times for the photo to an article by the former editor of House & Garden. “Unemployed,” it read, “the author became obsessed with gazing at and eating eggs.”

Hey, I thought. I am a bit obsessed with them too. Hard boiled, cut in half and sprinkled with a light kiss of salt, each grain gathering itself into a tiny saline droplet on the flat surface of the egg white. Hard boiled, with the egg yolks mixed with a bit of mustard and sprinkled with paprika. Hard boiled, chopped into salads or sandwiches. Hard boiled, peeled, and further cooked in fragrant salty broths until they become tea eggs or lu dan. Soft boiled or poached, and then drizzled with soba-tsuyu, the mixture of dashi (a fish broth usually made from bonito flakes), mirin (rice wine), and soy sauce that the Japanese use as a dipping sauce for cold buckwheat noodles in the summertime. Poached and spread on crispy toast with anchovies, bacon, or some other very salty thing. Fried, sunny-side up. Fried, sunny-side up, in sesame oil with a few slivers of fresh ginger. Scrambled, plain or with a bit of cheese or spinach or mushrooms or (on a rich day) shrimp or smoked salmon. Carefully cracked and swirled into hot pot or brothy soups, so that the waving egg-white fins pick up the flavor of the soup but remain attached to the saucered yolk. Steamed into soft, savory, silken concoctions in Japanese or Chinese cuisine… Continue reading